As a freelancer, you might deal with taxes, marketing, customer service, and your actual specialty all in the same day. You have enough to deal with, so let’s help simplify one of the most stressful parts of the freelance life: making a good first impression on potential clients.
The eight steps below can make that goal definable and manageable. If you work through the steps before every interview, you’ll know you’ve done all you can.
The pressure is then off so you can impress the client with your personality or powers of persuasion.
You’ll work harder or very little on certain steps at different times, but you can always run through the whole checklist before each prospect meeting to make sure everything is ready.
1) Polish Your Online Presence
Prospects look up freelancers online, just as you look up vendors you want to buy from. So, check to make sure every instance of your online presence looks professional, including your:
- LinkedIn profile
- Other profiles or professional listings
If you don’t have a website, you can set one up quickly using a low-cost online service. If you have a larger budget, you could hire a company to create a higher-quality customized website for you. Remember: almost any business you trust has a website!
Check your website carefully for misspellings, awkward grammar, and low-quality images. Read your copy out loud to make sure it has a conversational yet professional tone. Replace or delete any images that look low-quality. Finally, add your latest piece or two to your portfolio.
2) Research the Prospect and Gig
Research your prospect for the following information:
- Product or services
- Range of offers
- Company data
Look for gaps in your knowledge that you can clarify during the meeting in order to find out what the prospect most values and needs. Show that you care enough to have put time into your preparation.
After the meeting, the prospect should be able to say to himself or others, “That freelancer really understood us, was practically ready to start working for us, and probably won’t give us any problems.”
Thorough research is key to making a good first impression. It’s also vital for customizing your ideas and questions for that specific prospect and gig so you can have the most valuable conversation possible.
3) Create a Leave-Behind
During your research, think up two or more specific ways you could use your services to help your client, based on his or her company website, products, offers, and so on. Write them up in a decent-looking document that is customized for your prospect. It can be one or several pages.
Your competition might not do this, so you’ll stand out. But even if others create leave-behinds, you can put extra effort into yours. Coordinate the look of it with your website. Think deeply about how you could best benefit your prospect, and write out the steps you would take and how much time each would require.
Don’t worry if your ideas might not turn out to be exactly correct. Your prospect will notice your sincere effort to be helpful.
4) Write Your Own Questions
Prepare questions for the prospect that will help you get ready for the gig. Split them into several categories such as the following:
- The prospect’s target market
- Their products or services—what makes them different, etc.
- Their marketing
- Their procedures for working with freelancers
- The project history—the work already done, the customer service records, product reviews, etc.
- The launch—how the product or service launch will happen, what guarantee they’ll offer, their sales goals, etc.
- Deadline and budget—when they need to start and end, what a delay would mean, how much they’ve budgeted, etc.
You can ask a few of your questions during the initial meeting. Then, ask the rest before you actually start the gig. This will show you understand what it takes to get that type of gig done.
5) Practice, Practice
Practice your questions out loud, along with the way you discuss your leave-behind, either with a friend or alone. If you don’t, your questions could sound unnatural or even rude during the interview. Polish them until they sound friendly and second-nature.
It’s natural to get nervous during an interview. When our hearts are beating faster, it’s easy to forget important details. So, over-prepare your questions and anything you can’t neglect to say. Practice until you can improvise even when you’re nervous.
You may not want to practice specific answers, because it’s not good to sound like you’re delivering a memorized monologue. You’re an expert in your field, so just be honest, direct, and concise. Above all, practice being a friendly, normal person who’s pleasant to be around.
6) Have a Good Mental Game
As the day of the meeting approaches—and then again right before the meeting—focus your mind on the value you can offer, not on trying to persuade your prospect to hire you. Also, think about making a friendly connection so that if you’re not hired, you’ll still know you’ve accomplished that.
Remember, you’re a skilled professional. You’re in demand. People like to work with you. You’re offering a valuable service that some prospects really need and appreciate, and you deserve to be fairly compensated in exchange.
This meeting is an opportunity for you both to gather information so you can make a good decision. You can walk away if the prospect is rude or seems wrong for you. No single project can make or break your career.
7) Look Professional
If your meeting is in person or on a video call, be the cleanest, most professional version of yourself, while still being yourself. Iron any items of clothing that need it, and make sure they’re clean. Pay attention to all the little details of hair, makeup, shoes, and so on.
Have you ever noticed that your doctor wears her white lab coat all the time, even when she’s just chatting with you? Her uniform projects the image of “doctor.” Similarly, you need to present the image of someone who freelances for a living.
Looking professional signals to your prospect’s subconscious mind that you’re a safe hire. It doesn’t prove it, but it’s one more detail that can make her comfortable with her decision.
8) Develop a Professional Voice
Practice speaking in a strong, confident voice, especially for phone meetings. Sit up straight while you speak. Stand up in an expansive pose, if it’s appropriate or you’re on the phone. Smile, because it’ll make you feel more happy and vital.
It’s very easy to forget to use your best voice when you’re nervous. Try speaking that way all the time for a whole week, in every single situation. Use your strongest, happiest, most vibrant voice until it becomes a natural part of you.
It’s normal to get nervous, because it’s exciting that you might get a new gig! Your voice and brain won’t do exactly what you expect, but that’s just part of the process. Make peace with it, and just keep practicing and improving.
Charisma or Preparation?
A lot of preparation goes into making a good first impression!
It’s easy to think that some people are just born with charisma. But your preparation—your research, leave-behind, questions, and so on—goes a long way in telling your prospect if you’re right for him or her.
So get super-prepared, practice, and then focus on being friendly and professional during the meeting. You could be saying hello to your exciting new gig before you know it.